The heart and soul of public education
I got home from work yesterday after running a couple of errands. It was approaching 6 p.m. My wife, a teacher, was scrunched over her computer at our kitchen island, still working, still all in, too busy to even chat. OK. I changed from my work clothes, did a couple yard chores, tinkered around with my motorcycle. At 6:45 I came back and was just closing her laptop as I walked in, finally ready to relax.
This morning Lori’s out of bed before the sun, off to Lake Junaluska for a brisk walk so she can get to school at something very close to 7 a.m., her normal time. She’s an ESL teacher, and many of her students congregate in her classroom before school starts.
My wife’s a dedicated teacher, and I see it every day. There’s the regular work, and then there’s phone calls, after-school meetings, translating for parents, helping younger teachers, helping students with the personal challenges facing those who don’t speak English, and more. She gets a lot of satisfaction out of her job, and her entire mood is directly influenced by the ups and downs of her students.
She’s not alone, as there are so many highly motivated and dedicated public school teachers in this country. This is National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 3-7. Thank them for what they do, especially in this last year as every educator in this country grappled with remote learning, schedules that have been a moving target since the pandemic started, and all the normal and pandemic-related psychological baggage children and adolescents bring with them to school every day.
My own children had many such teachers during their time in Haywood County Schools, and I witnessed first-hand how so many went above and beyond their job description every single day. For many, teaching is a calling, and they just do whatever it takes to help their students achieve. The best leave lasting influences that stay with us our entire lives.
I was one of those weird kids who loved school, enjoyed learning, couldn’t wait to get there. The arc of my early life was very much guided by the influential teachers I had as a child and as an adolescent. There was Mrs. Chambers, first grade at the sweltering elementary school in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who patiently tried to straighten out my confusion with yellows and oranges, blues and greens; Miss Fitch, third-grade at Aquidneck Elementary in Middletown, Rhode Island, who read my poem in front of the class and complimented my writing; Mrs. Ashley at College Lakes Elementary in Fayetteville, who didn’t rat me out for giving answers to my friends during a math test but kept me after class and challenged me “not to fall to their level but rise to your own;” and Mrs. Sykes, high school journalism teacher extraordinaire at Pine Forest Senior High in Fayetteville, who had everything to do with the fact that I’m sitting here today writing this column for The Smoky Mountain News.
We still don’t give teachers their due respect, still don’t treat them like the professionals they are. I bumped into a principal pal the other day, during school hours, and jokingly gave him a hard time for being away from school. He came back, asking why are educators always called out when they are away from school during school hours while other professionals aren’t treated the same? He was right.
I’m a public school advocate who believes our school system is this country’s great unifier, the one big part of life almost all of us have in common. It shapes our attitudes about this country and the world we live in. The heart and soul of the system are the teachers who spend so many hours each day and each week with our children. A sincere thanks for what you do.
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My thanks, too, to the millions of hard-working teachers across the nation, from a retired teacher.